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Mosques torched after worst Iraq bombing

Four mosques and several houses were burned in a small Sunni part of the mainly Shiite area in northwest Baghdad.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2006 12:52 IST

Gunmen bent on revenge burned mosques and homes in a Sunni enclave of Baghdad on Friday as Iraq's leaders pleaded for calm, a day after the worst bomb attack since the US invasion.

Some 30 people were killed, police said, as suspected Shiite militiamen rampaged for hours, untroubled by a curfew enforced in the capital by US and Iraqi forces after bombs killed 202 people in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

Four mosques and several houses were burned in a small Sunni part of the mainly Shiite Hurriya area in northwest Baghdad, Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salem al-Zobaie told the agency.

One witness said 14 people were killed in his mosque during Friday prayers: "It was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades," university teacher Imad al-Din al-Hashemi said. "When the gunmen moved on to attack another mosque, we evacuated the wounded."

The White House called the violence a "brazen effort to topple a democratically elected government".

The US military said it sent no troops to Hurriya but that Iraqi police were on hand. Many police units are close to Shiite militia groups.

It was the second daylight raid by guerrillas in two days. With the competence and sectarian loyalties of security forces in doubt, some fear such clashes could erupt into open warfare.

Most Baghdadis stayed fearfully at home, exchanging often wildly varied and unsettling rumor about the violence by telephone. The vehicle curfew was extended throughout on Saturday.

Twenty-two people died when two suicide bombers struck a Shi'ite market in the northern city of Tal Afar, adding pressure on the fragile national unity government on which Washington has pinned its hopes of a smooth exit from Iraq.  

UN envoy Ashraf Qazi warned of "a cycle of uncontrollable violence threatening the very social fabric of Iraq or any prospects for a future of peace, tolerance and unity".

In Sadr City, after a day of funeral processions, the US military said a helicopter destroyed a site where six rockets had been fired at a mosque in a nearby Sunni area.

It said it acted to "prevent further escalation of sectarian violence".

Moqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric whose Mehdi Army militia dominates the sprawling east Baghdad slum, appealed for Muslim unity in a sermon but also demanded the leading religious figure from the Sunni minority issue a fatwa against Al-Qaeda members.

Such appeals after the bombing at Samarra in February of a major Shi'ite shrine failed to stop sectarian bloodshed that is killing 100 Iraqis a day, some of it blamed on Sadr's men.

Sadr also sought to take advantage of the carnage in Sadr City to ram home demands for an end to US occupation.

Aides said they would quit Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet and parliament if Maliki went ahead with a planned summit with President Bush in Jordan next week.

Bush was expected to discuss with Maliki how to give Iraqi forces more control, faster, to speed the prospect of US troops going home -- something voters showed they want by handing Congress to Bush's Democratic opponents this month.

Maliki is under US pressure to disband militias, which control parts of the police and army. But the premier depends on Sadr and his fellow Shi'ites to maintain his own position.

Sectarian bitterness has surfaced within the six-month-old government, after attacks on politicians. President Jalal Talabani, an ethic Kurd, convened the senior leadership for what he called a successfully frank late-night exchange of views